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Winter NAMM Wrapup

If you’re assigned to cover the Winter NAMM show and have podiatric troubles, or have trouble faking your way through conversations on speaker ohm-loads and S/PDIF interfacing, or find scantily clad women hawking rock ‘n’ roll guitars to be offensive, you’re pretty much screwed. Lucky for me, my shoes were comfortable, my BS-ing skills were polished and I had no business checking out rock ‘n’ roll guitars this past January at the musical instrument manufacturers’ annual summit in Anaheim, Calif.

Winter NAMM is a place where everybody-from the kid who molds plectrums to the curve of your thumb, right on up to the folks that build big ‘n’ bright, Rolling Stones-tour-worthy lighting rigs-convene to show off their new gear to those who will sell it in stores-and to those who will push it in print.

Every Winter NAMM show is huge. It dwarfs its summer sibling, which is held in Nashville, by umpteens more square feet of show-floor and an energy level on par with that of a political convention. And every year some seriously famous names (read: Herbie Hancock and Joe Zawinul) patrol the same miles of red carpet as the instrument buyers, autograph hounds and lowly, nonfamous journalists. Still, even the stars can hardly take attention away from the wealth of new products showcased at NAMM.

While rock and pop are the bread and butter of Winter NAMM, more than a few instrument manufacturers keep jazz near and dear to their hearts. They are people who want to serve the jazz community. They are people who want their products covered by the mighty JazzTimes. I am happy to oblige.

Saxes, Trombones & Reeds

Never have I seen saxophones that looked and felt sturdier than the horns at the Stephanhöuser booth. The company is the up-and-comer of the sax-crafting lot, innovating the art with three patented design elements: a solid brass octave key mechanism, the use of screwless pins in the key rods (to maintain constant and uniform tension) and a one-piece bow made from tempered bell brass that increases resonance and strength. Stephanhöuser has a number of models in soprano, alto, tenor and baritone ranges. We’ll cover one or two in more depth in the near future.

The newly named Conn-Selmer company (which operates under the giant Steinway Musical Instruments umbrella) showcased its new King 2B professional trombones. They’re jazz models that offer forceful projection and improved upper-register tone and can be had with Sterling, rose brass or the traditional yellow brass bells. The 2102L trombone is the Jiggs Whigham signature model. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, you’re likely not a ‘bone head. Or perhaps you just don’t hang out often in Germany, where the trombonist lives and performs regularly. Whigham has played with plenty of recognizable names, however, most notably Stan Kenton, Count Basie and Mel Lewis-Thad Jones. His lightweight signature trombone has a .491-inch bore, a 7 3/8-inch bell and outer slides of nickel silver, and it’s especially good for playing leads. King also introduced the 2B+ trombone, a slightly more open version of the 2B recommended for use in big bands.

Reed-maker Vandoren experimented with the relationship between the tone-producing heart of a reed and its tip (the part responsible for vibration), and came up with the ZZ, a jazz-specific saxophone reed that artists Gary Foster and Frank Catalano use. Available for alto, tenor, and baritone, the ZZs help deliver a big tone with immediate response in free-blowing contexts, even up in the altissimo range.

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